One of the harshest scenarios we face in life is seeing someone we love decline medically, physically, mentally, or behaviorally. The grief of losing the person we know can be immobilizing. Denial is one of the ways people cope with these devastating losses. It is hard to admit what we see even when the signs are there. Denial can also be present for the person facing dementia. By definition, dementia can impair the judgment or memory of the person experiencing the illness. They may genuinely be unaware of the deficits they are experiencing.
Erring on the side of denial can create health and safety concerns for a loved one experiencing dementia. Family members and friends may have very different perspectives about how a loved one is functioning. It is vitally important for caregivers or potential caregivers to be honest and realistic about the ability to function for their loved ones. There are many dangers associated with denial:
- Dementia does not get better without being addressed. Unless it is confronted dementia will continue to progress resulting in ongoing decline of function of the patient. This can create potential dangers regarding safety causing increased harm in a myriad of ways for the person suffering from dementia.
- Accidents-Dementia left untreated can result in accidents or worse loss of life. Denial of
poor driving skills can cause car crashes with potential loss of life. People may accidentally
forget to take a medication or overdose causing serious health risks or potentially death. Also
denial regarding mobility or balance deficits can result in loss of balance or falls creating
new medical problems or additional health concerns.
- Danger of Memory or judgement lapses-These deficits can create risks like getting lost, or
wandering behaviors. A person with dementia left unsupervised could potentially create a fire
or leave water on creating serious and dangerous scenarios.
- Delayed Professional Help-People in denial may not want to ask for help for reasons of
lack of knowledge, embarrassment, or shame. They don’t want others to know that a loved one
is in need of additional help. Sometimes a family member or loved one feels they can manage
the type and frequency of help needed. However, they may suddenly find themselves
overwhelmed or not being able to offer the level of care that is needed as needs increase. The
delay in getting healthcare professionals involved can allow untreated dementia to
progress at a faster rate creating additional challenges and burdens.
- Financial Risks-A person suffering from dementia may not be able to manage their financial
affairs. Unpaid bills can create a stream of financial problems. The last thing you want is to
end up with legal problems or utilities turned off resulting from unpaid bills. Seniors may also
be at risk for identity theft of someone doing unethical things with their assets if they are not
able to properly manage their finances.
The best thing we can do is to stay in regular contact with loved ones and keep our eyes open to any changes that may be occurring. Watch for sudden unexplained changes in behavior, poor hygiene, memory changes, unpaid bills, or inability to do tasks that used to be routine.
Encourage a loved one displaying these behaviors to be seen by a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Act as quickly as possible to ensure that any problems are being properly addressed.
If they won’t listen to you identify a trusted person like a relative, neighbor, clergy, or doctor to step in so a proper intervention can be made. It is the greatest gift you can give yourself and your loved one and the end result will be better for all concerned.
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